Thursday, September 23, 2010

Biodiversity and Heritage Breeds

We have a verbal agreement on the house. The lawyer is reviewing paperwork and we hope to have a sales contract soon.

So, aspiring to a life in Galicia, my hypothetical country house of course comes along with a hypothetical garden and hypothetical animals.

Cachena cow

Part of my reading has introduced me to Heritage Livestock Breeds – breeds that were raised for agriculture in the past for their foraging, mothering and hardiness, and carefully raised to thrive in their local environment.

Porco Celta

This is contrary to the economic forces which have resulted in the factory farming we have now. Industrial meat production focuses exclusively on animals which gain weight quickly and uniformly by virtue of a variety of cheap energy inputs – from confinement and grain feeding to mass application of antibiotics. I´m convinced that as fossil fuels become increasingly expensive and difficult to obtain, that economic model will become increasingly unsustainable.

In addition to the economic argument, industrial production has also resulted in a staggering loss of biodiversity.


According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), we are currently losing an average of 2 domestic animal breeds each week, iv and half of all domestic animal breeds that existed in Europe in 1900 are now extinct. v In the past fifteen years alone, the FAO has identified the extinction of 300 out of 6000 breeds worldwide, with another 1,350 in danger of extinction. vi

In the US, a few main breeds dominate the livestock industry:
83% of dairy cows are Holsteins, and five main breeds comprise almost all of the dairy herds in the US.
60% of beef cattle are of the Angus, Hereford or Simmental breeds.
75% of pigs in the US come from only 3 main breeds.
+60% of sheep come from only four breeds

It seems only prudent to preserve diversity in case of outbreaks of disease, or to try to increase survivability along with climate change. And, aside from the practicalities that preserving local traditional breeds present in terms of better flavor, more economical production through breeds that survive better on pasture alone or free ranging – I think there´s an historical and cultural appeal in maintaining ties to traditional food production methods.

Gallina de Mos

So, from time to time I am going to blog about Galician heritage breeds, even though we´re unlikely to have enough space to actually raise a cow or sheep without finding pasture to rent. Frankly, there seem to be plenty of cows in Galicia already, although mostly Holstein. Blogging will necessarily involve doing some translating both from Spanish and Gallego, which can only help since translation work is likely to form part of our domestic economy once we´re there.

Mostly I desperately need an excuse to have a couple of these:
Spanish Mastiff

More on heritage breeds.





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